Grey hair, don’t care
My mum hated my white hair. She hated it when it first sprouted in my early twenties. She hated it six years later when I too busy raising a small child to keep up with covering my increasingly silver roots. And she really hated it when, years later, I finally decided to let it grow out.
I was in my 30s when I first started to truly get fed-up with my hair-dye routine. Twice a year, I’d splurge for a salon to professionally dye my hair, but within a few weeks, I was back to needing a top-up. To help save my bank account, I’d then grab the cheapest box of dye on the shelf and dutifully slather its contents on my head. Still, I’d see white roots within two weeks. And, because I often grabbed whatever was on sale, even when I kept up the schedule my head was a random mix of sable, chicory and a dozen other names for “brown.”
I began to strategically style my hair with colourful headbands. I used a kind of hair paint to touch up my roots, even though it never quite matched my actual hair colour. I discovered a love for hats.
At one point, I bought the blackest black dye I could find, thinking I could at least reset my locks to a single colour. Instead, I stained my forehead charcoal. I walked around that way for weeks before it faded. After, I thought: that’s it. I refused to buy another box of cheap dye, and decided that if I really wanted a do-over, I was going to get back to my natural hair first—even if it meant embracing the grey.
Meanwhile, my mother was in her mid-fifties and three decades into her own Clairol pledge. Her hair was dyed jet black, and like many women in the Indian community I grew up in, she believed grey hair meant she had given up on being attractive. “What will people think?” she’d ask me, glaring at the curly, grey rebels wending their way through my dark hair in growing numbers, “That I have jet black hair and my child is going grey?”
I’d respond by pointing to a photo of her mother, my Nanni. In India, women commonly disguised the age of their hair. Once they became widows, however, they were expected to look the part. After her husband died, Nanni wore her hair in a single, snow-white plait that ran halfway down her back. She was only in her 40s, but she loved her white hair. With it, she was no longer expected to wear bright saris and makeup, or to endure the catcalls of men as she walked outside. To her, white hair symbolised freedom.
I love my hair
It took two years to fully grow out my hair dye and let my true grey shine. I’m now 45, and like my Nanni, I love my hair. The white strands on my head do not follow the crowd. My brown hair stays calmly in the pins and elastics I assign it. Not so for their rebellious melanin-lacking counterparts. My white hairs stand straight up, curl around my ears and generally cause as much disruption to my hairstyle as they are able. They’re the feminist leaders of my otherwise tamed mane.
Today, women of all ages openly admire my hair, expressing their wish to be “brave enough” to walk away from the bottle. I understand their fear. As much as people compliment my hair, many others negatively associate it with age. Now that my white hair has migrated to my eyebrows, every visit to the aesthetician comes with a side of advice on how easy it is to dye them. But I let go of my own fear a long time ago. Now, whenever someone offers to “fix” my greys, I smile and let them know that I like looking my age.
My advice to you is: have fun with it. Buy a funky hat—or buy a dozen. Try a thick headband or repurpose a silk scarf. Embrace the roots. Cut off your dyed hair and try a full-silver pixie cut. Or, be even more daring.
I grew up envious of blondes and their ability to morph with ease. Simple lemon juice could turn their heads shimmery white; a dab of colour and their heads became works of art. My white hair now gives me a freedom of expression I never had with dark hair. I recently discovered a product that temporarily turns my grey into a whole range of fun colours. I’ve since had a rainbow flow from my imagination to my locks, from blue to red to purple to green. After a week or two, my hair returns to its true salt-and-pepper state—and I love that too.
Thanks to COVID-19, most of the world is now living in self-isolation. That means no salon trips to cover the grey and, for some of us, no easy access to boxed dye either. Instead of stressing over your roots, why not use this unprecedented moment to take the plunge and allow your own grey to gain ground? My hope is that more than a few will unexpectedly discover a newfound freedom in going grey. Now can be the moment when simple practicality gives a boost of courage to those who need it—and perhaps makes society just a little less judgmental when they see us all sporting our new grey tresses.
By the way, my mum now sports a head full of pure snow-white hair—not grey, not silver, but pure white. As she watched my transition over the years, it gave her the courage to walk away from the dye. Welcome to the pack mum, I can’t wait to rock that look.